Madame Serpent

Written by Jean Plaidy
Review by Arleigh Johnson

The first volume of Jean Plaidy’s Catherine de Medici trilogy, this story begins with her unfortunate childhood as an orphan and pawn of her kinsman, Pope Clement VII, and ends as she becomes Queen Mother to Francois II of France. The tumultuous years of her marriage—childless for a decade, unloved by her husband for its entirety—are chronicled in detail, giving an intimate view of the emotional turmoil that created this enigmatic and much reviled Queen.

Catherine, schooled from an early age to be outwardly emotionless and cold, became a calculating, speculative woman. Her only flaw, as she saw it, was her fiercely passionate love for her husband. She struggled to rein in her emotions, but her unrelenting hate for her rival, Diane de Poitiers, consumed the greater part of her life while her husband lived. Near the end of this segment, she comes into her own as she banishes the hated mistress and prepares to take over as regent of France.

In her usual style, Plaidy depicts a host of historical figures, weaving their stories together while giving each a credible personality and interesting background. With hints of the coming religious struggles, much political maneuvering is touched on, with the King’s favored advisor pitted against Diane de Poitiers and her protégés, the de Guises. Throughout her early years and marriage, however, Madame Serpent had not yet earned the sobriquet for which she is famously known. Plaidy fans will enjoy this introduction to Catherine de Medici, though readers looking for a murderous villainess may be disappointed.